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Quick guide to the EU

1. About the EU

The European Union, or EU, is built on an institutional system which is quite unique in the world. Member states – those countries which have entered into the Union – delegate sovereignty for certain matters to independent institutions (see below). These represent the interests of the Union as a whole.

Democracy and the rule of law are the cornerstones of this structure. Through its role as the instigator of EU law, the European Commission, or ‘the Commission’, upholds the interests of the Union as a whole, while each national government is represented within the Council of the European Union, or ‘Council’, and the European Parliament, or ‘Parliament’, is directly elected by EU citizens.

While these three institutions represent the core of the EU, references to the main ‘institutions’ often include two more – the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors. In addition, a number of specialised agencies and bodies have been set up to handle, in most cases, scientific, technical or management tasks. Furthermore, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee have been established specifically to act as advisors to the Commission, Council and Parliament.

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